Go Upstream to Pursue Health Equity

Dr. Rick Foster, MD, Executive Director, Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina

Over seven years ago, the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) and its member health systems made a commitment to join with other stakeholders across our state in pursuit of the Triple Aim of better health and healthcare for all South Carolinians. This decision to align our efforts on the population and community health front resulted in the creation of the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, a multi-sector, collective impact-based coalition that now has over 60 member organizations. From the early stages of the Alliance, our membership has worked to ensure that our collective decisions and actions are all filtered through a health equity lens. In 2016, Alliance leadership established the SC Call to Action for Health Equity built on four key areas of equity-based strategic focus: to establish just and equitable organizational cultures; to focus on diversity and inclusion in the educational and workforce pipeline; to actively partner with at risk communities and populations on solutions targeted to eliminate specific inequities; and to ensure equity stratification of health data collection, analysis and dissemination. The vast majority of Alliance members and health systems have adopted the guiding principles of this call to action and are taking actions to address specific policy and practice barriers that are resulting in major disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes.

Earlier this year, the SCHA Board representing a diverse mix of health system senior leaders endorsed the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Leadership Alliance’s “Achieving Health Equity Call to Action” as a framework for the next stage of our collective efforts in pursuit of improving the health and wellbeing of everyone in SC. In particular, a growing number of health systems across our state are working with community partners to invest in upstream programs and solutions focused on the major social, economic and environmental drivers of health inequities.

Several key examples of these financial and human resource investments in South Carolina include:

• AnMed Health is working to build an equitable organizational culture with a focus on diversity and inclusion across all levels of their workforce and providing         opportunities for members of the community to have a more active voice in all aspects of their health and  care.
• Spartanburg Regional Health System is partnering with many community organizations to reinvigorate a vulnerable neighborhood including investments in safe   green space, affordable housing options, a minority-owned healthy food hub, and targeted training and employment opportunities for residents of this local         community.
• Palmetto Health has partnered with a network of churches and faith-based organizations across the Midlands to institute health improvement outreach                programs targeted to stroke and diabetes prevention and influenza immunization.
• The Medical University of South Carolina has ensured that minority-owned businesses in their local community make up a significant portion of the companies      contracted for the construction and ongoing maintenance of their new Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
• The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg is working with a local public charter school, High School for Health Professions, to provide scholarships and                employment opportunities for minority students.
• Both Greenville Health System and Bon Secours St. Francis are partnering with community-based organizations to provide outreach services for a growing              Latino population including coverage for community health workers and community paramedics.

We still have a long way to go on our collective journey here in SC in pursuit of health equity and improved health for vulnerable people and communities. However, a growing number of urban and rural health systems across our state are taking unprecedented steps with key community partners to move upstream in providing and paying for programs and services designed to remove social, educational and economic barriers to good health and wellbeing. In the next stage of this journey, the Alliance will be working closely with our member organizations to establish a statewide Health Equity Action Plan to guide and support our future efforts to eliminate equity-based health disparities and give a more active voice to people and communities across SC most at risk. Join us as we travel upstream together in search of health equity and social justice for all.